Executive Function in Distance Learning

Yesterday, I attended a webinar on Executive Function Challenges in Distance Learning. Executive function is a set of mental skills that help us to organize our days, focus our attention, and handle our emotions. In other words, the skills that we need to function productively on a daily basis, and the skills that our children are still developing.

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that stressful situations, like our current pandemic, have a negative effect on executive function. Do you find yourself forgetting the day of the week? That’s normal. Does your fifth grader run upstairs to get her book and come back without it? That’s normal. Tears, misunderstandings, feeling overwhelmed – all normal.

You may be happy to learn, though, that there is one executive function skill that is likely growing and improving for all of us these days: cognitive flexibility. It’s the ability to think outside the box, problem-solve, and “get unstuck.” As the weeks have passed, we have learned our way around the various digital platforms. A setback or missed connection doesn’t bother us quite as much. I’ve seen it in my students. They help each other figure out sound and video issues during our video conferences. They offer to share their screens to demonstrate a problem or ask a question. They create new approaches to the problems in front of them, and they’re very forgiving when their teacher messes up. So, cognitive flexibility and compassion are growing!

If you’d like to learn more about supporting executive function, the Understood website comes highly recommended. They even have a section specific to the quarantine situation and distance learning. In the meantime, I’ll share the five components of self-care highlighted in yesterday’s webinar:

  1. Sleep
  2. Physical Activity
  3. Nutrition
  4. Social Interaction
  5. Leisure Time (Likely already high on your list, but a little reinforcement never hurts.)

Take care,

Amie Tedeschi
Lower School Coordinator